Sunday, February 24, 2013

Feb. 24 - Mar. 2, 2013 Discussions

This week's Sunday comment on my web site was entirely about the introduction to Professor Lance deHaven Smith's upcoming book "Conspiracy Theory in America."

I found Professor Smith's beliefs to be so bizarre that I had to read and re-read the introduction at least a half dozen times.  I even made a copy of it for myself, so I could highlight in red his most unbelievable beliefs.  Nearly every paragraph seems to argue something that I see as totally crazy.

Professor Smith's primary belief seems to be that it is the duty of every American to be suspicious of everything the government does, and to call for investigations of everything that seems suspicious.  And, anyone who disagree is UN-American.  He appears to argue that suspicions alone are enough to start an investigation of a government official, and, since there is no way to prove a politician is NOT corrupt, every "investigation" must therefore either find proof of corruption or be deemed a failure because the investigators obviously didn't look in the right places or look hard enough.  Or maybe the investigators joined the conspiracy.    

Professor Smith somehow believes that "the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory."  He claims the Declaration of Independence argues that King George was conspiring against the people of America.  Reading the Declaration of Independence, however, clearly shows that it presents a long list of evidence proving that King George was acting like a tyrant.  No conspiracy.  Just a list of facts showing injustices ordered and directed by the King.

The craziest part of Professor Smith's theory may be his belief that people who did as he suggests are the kind of villains he wants stopped.  Nixon and his aids suspected the Democrats of doing things that were illegal, so Nixon's aides set out to find evidence of it.  They committed crimes during their search, resulting in the Watergate scandal.  Bush-Cheney suspected Saddam Hussein of having connections to al Qaeda and being somehow responsible for 9/11, so they set out to find evidence of it.  That led to an unnecessary war and the finding NO evidence of a connection between Hussein and 9/11 or al Qaeda.

The Introduction to Professor Smith's book also includes some truly crazy beliefs about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Professor Smith argues that as soon as investigators found that USAMRIID may have had a connection to the anthrax attacks, the investigators should have assumed that the U.S. Military may also have been behind 9/11.  Why?  Because Professor Smith has a crazy belief that governments are the same as individual criminals.  If individual criminals can be caught by looking for patterns in their crimes, then investigators should look for the same thing when they suspect governments of crimes. Professor Smith wrote:
It is routine police protocol to look for patterns in burglaries, bank robberies, car thefts, and other crimes, and to use any patterns that are discovered as clues to the perpetrators’ identity and the vulnerabilities to crime that are being exploited. This method of crime analysis is shown repeatedly in crime shows on TV. It is Criminology 101. There is no excuse for most Americans, much less criminal investigators, journalists, and other professionals, to fail to apply this method to assassinations, election fiascos, defense failures, and other suspicious events that shape national political priorities.  
Evidently Professor Smith cannot see any difference between administrations or eras.  He feels that, if President Nixon helped cover up an illegal break-in at the Watergate Hotel, it should be assumed that President Obama is currently helping cover up a U.S. Government plot that Professor Smith believes was behind 9/11 and the anthrax attacks of 2001.

Professor Smith's book won't actually be published until April.  When it is, I hope there will be some discussion about it.  I hope it won't just be ignored the way the recent conspiracy theory paper by Professor Martin Hugh-Jones, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Dr. Stuart Jacobsen was ignored.  I think Professor Smith's book could be a very fascinating look into the workings of the mind of a true conspiracy theorist.

Meanwhile, on this forum last week, I had a long discussion with R. Rowley who seems to truly believe that he knows who sent the anthrax letters, and it wasn't Dr. Bruce Ivins.  Mr. Rowley doesn't think the FBI "bungled" the investigation, he just thinks they didn't understand evidence, they used wrong investigative techniques, they used invalid reasoning, and they came up with the wrong suspect.  Mr. Rowley plans to write a book in which he'll show why the FBI was wrong, and he'll explain his theory about the art of linguistics and how it shows someone other than Dr. Ivins was the culprit.  But, when you get to the end of Mr. Rowley's book, you'll find he doesn't name the real culprit.  You just have to trust that he's right.  That seems like a practical joke to me, but it appears Mr. Rowley has high hopes for the book.  


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Feb. 17 - Feb. 23, 2013 Discussions

My comment for Sunday, Feb. 17, was mostly about a paper titled "Conspiracy Theories" by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule from the University of Chicago and Harvard Law Schools.

The article uses a lot of "highfalutin" words to make many of the same observations I've been making about conspiracy theorists and True Believers for 11 years.

What I call "arguing beliefs against facts," they call "crippled epistemology." 

What I call "illogical reasoning," they call "identifiable cognitive blunders."

And Sunstein and Vermeule use the term "degenerating research program," which just means using a bad hypothesis that requires that supporters constantly have to rationalize and explain away more and more evidence which shows their hypothesis is wrong. (A "progressive research program" is an hypothesis which new evidence tends to confirm.) 

However, while I agree with Sunstein and Vermeule on many observations, I tend to disagree with them on others.  Clearly they include among the "conspiracy theorists" many people who just think the government is incompetent, and that's why the government's "official explanation" doesn't explain what really happened.  Such people have no conspiracy theory, therefore they cannot be labeled as "conspiracy theorists."  They are "True Believers" who have the unshakable belief that they know "the truth" and the rest of the world doesn't. 

Sunstein and Vermeule also seem to fail to recognize that each Truther (conspiracy theorists and True Believers) has his own unique theory, whether they be Anthrax Truthers, 9/11 Truthers, Moon Landing Truthers, Climate Change Truthers or any other kind of Truther.  The only thing that makes them a "group" is the fact that they all believe the official version is wrong.  They seem to either believe everyone will see that they are right if they can just convince the world that the government is wrong, or they believe that the first goal is to convince everyone that the government is wrong, and then they can all sort out who is right.

Furthermore, Anthrax Truthers often think that 9/11 Truthers are nuts, and vice versa.  9/11 Truthers often think that Moon Landing Truthers are nuts, and vice versa.  Climate Change Truthers often think that Anthrax Truthers are nuts, and vice versa.  So, there's not only disagreement within each group of Truthers, they also often disagree with each other on a group level.

Sunstein and Vermeule fail to make that a key point.  I see it as THE key point.

My next chore is to learn more about epistemology.  As I understand it,
False propositions cannot be known.  Therefore, knowledge requires truth.  Something has to be true before it can be known.

However, if you don't believe a thing, you cannot know that thing.  Therefore knowledge also requires belief.

But, belief is not knowledge.  Therefore, knowledge also requires justification.

Justification assures that a belief is not just a wild guess.

So, truth, belief and justification are together necessary to have knowledge.
But how do you convince True Believers that the false propositions they believe in so thoroughly are false because they are contradicted by an abundance of verifiable evidence, when True Believers seem to believe that no evidence is really evidence unless by itself it is undeniable proof?  And, they can provide no such evidence (or even any meaningful evidence) to verify their own beliefs.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feb. 10 - Feb. 16, 2013 Discussions

It occurred to me this morning (and I wrote about it in my Sunday comment on my web site) that all the "Truthers" out there arguing against what the facts say about the anthrax attacks of 2001 (and the 9/11 attacks, and the landings on the moon, and the causes of climate change, and the connection between HIV and AIDS, and the links between cancer and smoking, and the official versions of many other subjects) are not really arguing about what they believe.  They are arguing about what they cannot believe.  Instead of being called "conspiracy theorists" and "True Believers," they might more accurately and properly be called "Cannot Believers."  Here's part of what I wrote in my Sunday comment:

Some people simply cannot believe that a lone gunman could single-handedly concoct a plot and fire a rifle with such accuracy to kill an American President in a moving vehicle.

Some people simply cannot believe that a single airliner striking a modern skyscraper could cause the entire building to collapse like a house of cards.

Some people simply cannot believe that it's just a coincidence that there were mass shootings using assault weapons at the time when the government wanted to crack down on ownership of such weapons.

Some people simply cannot believe that it is possible for humans to travel all the way to the moon and back and live to tell about it.

Some people simply cannot believe that it is possible for mere humans to affect the entire atmosphere of a planet the size of the earth.

Some people simply cannot believe that smoking causes cancer when there are so many people who smoked all their lives and never got cancer.

Some people simply cannot believe that a virus would mysteriously appear to kill mostly homosexuals when it is clear there are so many people opposed to homosexuality.

Some people simply cannot believe that the anthrax attack could come so soon after the 9/11 attacks without the same people being responsible for both attacks.

Some people simply cannot believe it was just a coincidence that there was a biological weapons terrorist attack so soon after America trashed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention because it didn't address attacks from terrorist organizations.

Some people simply cannot believe that a lone individual can create a super-sophisticated anthrax powder with the properties exhibited by the senate anthrax powders.

Some people simply cannot believe that someone they knew, particularly a socially inept person like Bruce Ivins, could commit the crime for which he was accused.

And, because these individuals cannot personally believe these things, they develop personal theories to account for what must have "really happened."  I.e., either some people in the government must have conspired to make it appear that the impossible happened, or the people in charge of investigating such things are so incompetent that they actually believe the impossible happened and don't see how impossible it really is.

So, the conspiracy theories are NOT what the conspiracy theorists believe, but what they developed because of what they CANNOT believe.

That's a very different ball game.  

It suggests that additional information CAN have an impact on them.  It says they are arguing from ignorance, thus some facts just might make a difference.

It's something worth thinking more about.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Feb. 3 - Feb. 9, 2013 Discussions

The bulk of my comment for Sunday February 3rd is about a new article from the Anthrax Truther Trio of Martin Hugh-Jones, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen.  The article was printed in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense and is titled "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax."  I found it to be a masterpiece of obfuscation where they write one thing and imply another.  Plus, it is an excellent example of using junk science to challenge real science.

I don't see any reason to repeat the entire comment here, but I suppose I should outline some key points:

1.  They seem to imply that Dugway was the source of the attack powders because Dugway weaponized spores with silicon in the past, and some spores also contained tin, which was found in trace amounts in the attack spores.  They ignore the fact that water isotope ratios found in the attack spores indicate that the spores were made in and East Coast lab and that Utah is one area that does not have those isotope ratios.   

2.  They repeatedly imply that anthrax spores microencapsulated with a silicon compound would look like the spores used in the attacks.  But, their references show just the opposite.  One reference even has an illustration which shows that microencapsulated spores would look nothing like what was found in the anthrax letters.  Here's that illustration:
This form of encapsulation clearly puts the coating on the outside of the exosporium, yet the Truther Trio repeatedly argues that it would be inside the spore coat and under the exosporium.  This form of encapsulation LOOKS very much like a different form of "encapsulation" which Dugway routinely uses and has used since the 1950's in tests.  On page 176 of my new book I have a photo of an "encapsulated" spore created by Dugway:
 3. The Truther Trio repeatedly uses gross data to argue that the silicon and tin amounts in the attack spores indicate "microencapsulation" and/or "weaponization."  In reality, gross data means nothing, since their numbers are mostly from the New York Post powder, and that powder was non-homogenous.  Dr. Ivins washed the spores out of the plates, and then he centrifuged the results to get rid of the excess water before he air dried the spores.  Centrifuging results in concentrating certain elements or materials in different layers within the centrifuge tube.  Thus, when the dried material is broken up, you'll have particles that are high in one element while another particle may not have that element at all.  Assuming that the entire powder is like what one sample indicates is pure junk science.  

I could go on and on.  I had to write most of the comment this morning, trying to get it done by 10 or 10:30 a.m., when I normally post my Sunday comment.  As a result, it contains a lot of repetition, and not everything is as well stated or well researched as I would like.  During the course of the day, I'll be going back over it to make improvements.

I'm also looking forward to what others might have to say and write about this article.  Will the New York Times mention it on their first page as they did with the previous nonsense from the same Truther Trio?  Will other scientists shoot it down?  Or is it old news and not worth bothering with?  It seems almost certain that the McClatchy Newspaper chain will jump on it as "proof" of something.

Whatever is written, it should give me something to comment about.  It's been a long time since there was any "news" about the anthrax attacks of 2001.